By Simon Fullalove
NEC contracts have been used to refurbish an iconic set of three bridges over the River Medway estuary in Rochester, south-east England.
Client Rochester Bridge Trust engaged contractor FM Conway Limited under an NEC4 Engineering and Construction Contract (ECC) Option B (priced contract with bill of quantities) in March 2019 to repair and renovate the 1914 northbound road bridge (which has elements dating back to 1856), the 1970 southbound road bridge and a 1970 service bridge which runs between them.
Arcadis was project manager and supervisor for the main contract under an NEC3 Professional Service Contract (PSC). The main contract was prepared for the client by TKR Consultancy and was one of the first uses of NEC4 ECC for bridge refurbishment.
The £12 million project included strengthening, repairing, painting, waterproofing and resurfacing the 140 m long steel bridge decks as well as replacing parapets and expansion joints and repairing the cast-iron, masonry and concrete piers. Other works included improvements to river walls, lighting, drainage, signage and landscaping, plus new seating on the adjacent Esplanade.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the project was successfully completed on budget and programme in December 2020 with minimal disruption to A2 traffic. The Rochester Bridge Trust was highly commended for the 2021 NEC Client of the Year award.
No Z clauses
Trust chief executive officer Sue Threader says, ‘In line with best procurement practice, we asked TKR to keep the NEC main contract in its unamended form by avoiding Z clauses. It was simply prepared to ensure value-led procurement, such as use of sectional completion and access dates to control site occupation.’
Following a competitive tender process based on 80% quality and 20% price, an inception event was attended by all key individuals including commercial teams from both parties. ‘The principles of collaborative working were discussed at length,’ says Threader. ‘Our expectations were presented and there was frank discussion of potential challenges to delivery, such as our absolute commitment to minimising delays and maximising workforce visibility, versus the contractor’s preferred methods of working.’
She says NEC training was provided to the whole project team at the outset. ‘This was to ensure a mutual understanding of NEC terms and our aspiration to use the contract’s full potential for effective project management. A mid-programme review event was also held to explore issues of uncertainty, particularly the process for valuing NEC compensation events.’
Threader says in line with the NEC obligation to act in a ‘spirit of mutual trust and co-operation,’ she and the contractor’s director had regular, open dialogue and allocated time to share concerns and reach solutions for the benefit of the project. ‘This highly collaborative relationship was vital in dealing with Covid-19 challenges and ensuring financial matters were settled simultaneously with completion on site. Consistent with NEC principles, we were also committed to consistent, fair dealings with the contractor, recognising its need to make a reasonable profit. In return the contractor invested in project values and maintaining positive community relations.’
She says collaboration was further encouraged by co-locating the project manager’s and contractor’ staff, and the client was highly visible on site and gave time for conversations with the workforce. ‘Following the NEC early warning process, frequent technical workshops and were held to resolve complex challenges and find optimal ways to manage and avoid risks that could delay the project. These early warning meetings included subcontractors and suppliers as appropriate.’
Collaboration further extended to site operatives, who all received an induction on project values and objectives, enabling them to be effective public ambassadors on such a high-profile site. ‘Social events helped to build open communications and relaxed relationships and, under Covid-19 restrictions, formal and informal contact was maintained through virtual channels,’ says Threader. ‘Furthermore, joint charity fundraising events were held for local foodbanks and for the Lighthouse Construction Charity, and a joint awards scheme was run to recognise outstanding contributions to the project ethos.’
Despite the complexity of the project, much of which involved working underneath operational bridges over a fast-flowing tidal estuary, the project was safely completed on time and budget in December 2020 and with no outstanding disputes.
‘Throughout the 18-month project, which involved more than 90,000 working hours, there were no lost-time incidents and just two very minor on-site injuries, both of which were resolved with the use of a first aid kit,’ says Threader.
An independent post-completion review identified a particular success of the project was the achievement of ‘one team’ aligned to common objectives. Liam McGoldrick, senior contracts manager at FM Conway says, ‘The Trust ensured from the start a clear alignment of goals for the team. These goals were at the forefront of all decisions. Sue took time to understand our challenges and worked with us to overcome them with clear and concise direction for the good of the project.
‘A genuine mutual respect between the Trust and site team achieved fantastic results for the project. It was a privilege to work with such a collaborative client.’
Benefits of using NEC
- NEC4 ECC was used unamended to deliver a major and complex bridge refurbishment project on time and budget with no outstanding disputes.
- NEC was prepared without Z clauses to ensure value-led procurement, such as use of sectional completion and access dates to control site occupation.
- NEC obligation to work in a ‘spirit of mutual trust and co-operation’ fostered a collaborative relationship, which was vital in dealing with Covid-19 challenges and ensuring financial matters were settled simultaneously with completion on site.
- Following the NEC early warning process, frequent technical workshops were held to resolve complex challenges and find optimal ways to manage and avoid risks that could delay the project.